Product industry is blossoming and all sorts of digital products are being created and subtly merged with our businesses and daily routines. The creation of digital products is an exciting, yet a very complex process. And this is where product management comes to save the day. You might have heard of it and may even believe that this business process is pretty simple to get. Believe it or not - there’s still a lot to learn what product management is all about.
As a design agency for SaaS companies, we at Eleken are lucky to be a part of digital products creation and work together with various product teams. In this article we would like to share what we have learnt about product management and its undeniable importance for successful products.
What is product management?
To figure out what product management is we first need to tackle the history a little. The concept appeared way before products got digital. In 1930th Neil McElroy, a young employee of Procter & Gamble, wrote a memo that suggested hiring more people for running the company's products.
The note uncovered the new approach according to which `brand men` had to focus on a product’s packaging, positioning, distribution, and sales. These employees were expected to be fully responsible for a full life cycle of a specific product. Responsibilities described in the note resemble modern product managers' role in many ways.
Mr. McElroy’s memo turned out to be influential and defined the future of product management for several generations. A lot has changed since then, but the idea of having a dedicated process and role responsible for managing products remained.
The further development of software companies led to Agile methods of management, main principles were gathered in Agile Manifesto. And even though this paper is more often associated with project management, it became in fact the turning point from where modern product management rises.
You are probably aware that product management is often confused with project management. And in general sense, we can say that these concepts are close. Yet if you zoom in, you will see that product and project management bear different responsibilities and key deliverables.
The main thing to get the difference between these two is that product management covers the whole product creation, while project management focuses on a specific stage of product development.
For project management tactics, strong organizational and time-management skills are more important, while product management is more strategic, requiring broader business vision and analytical thinking. Building, communicating and implementing the strategy for the product is one of the most important goals of product management.
Modern product management is responsible for the product’s strategy, development and performance from start to finish. The ability to see the bigger picture and make informed decisions necessary for product development are crucial for product managers that aim to create stunning products.
Achieving the goal of product success requires a deep understanding of technology behind the product, as modern digital products need to be flawless to win the competition and satisfy users. But product management is not just tech, it’s also profound understanding of users, their needs and satisfaction. And of course, product managers have to ensure all business goals are met. Thus, product management is best defined as the intersection of business, user experience, and tech.
To understand product management better, below we will talk about the product`s lifecycle, typical product manager`s activities, as well as tools used for effective product management. We will also look into product management roles and different organizational models of product companies to see how they influence the prduct management. And of course our favorite one, the collaboration of product management and design.
Product management lifecycle
Let’s take a look at life cycle of digital products as it directly influences the product management. When we talk about the lifecycle of product management we mean the way a particular company runs its product development.
The four main stages of a product life cycle are Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline. Let’s look at them more closely.
Introduction. This phase starts a couple months before release and continues while your product is entering the market. During this stage product management needs to make sure that the product will be introduced to its users properly. At this stage you don’t hope to have the revenue yet. The job here is to deliver the idea of your product or service to potential customers and gather feedback from your users to correct your direction if needed.
Growth. At growth stage, the significant number of users are aware of the product, benefit from it and ready to invest in it. If everything goes well you increase your revenue, client base and sales at this stage. The competition is growing and you need to mind it by continuing to enhance the product. As the name hints, it is the phase of the most rapid growth of your product.
Maturity. The maturity phase means your product has been established on the market. Hence you can see some slow-down in sales and growth. The reason is that the majority of target audience already uses your product, so it is time for diversification of your product, finding ways to involve new audiences and strong marketing efforts. For successful products, the maturity stage can last for decades.
Decline. Eventually every product reaches the decline stage. In this phase sales, market share and demand naturally decline. To create new demand and revive your product experts recommend product redesign and revamping.
Product management here goes step by step along with the product life cycle, following its introduction, growth, maturity and decline stages. Now, let’s learn what product managers do day to day to ensure their products longivity and success.
Product manager’s activities
Daily product management functions balance between the strategic and tactical sides of the product. It doesn’t mean that product managers have to take care of every single detail related to product development. We can describe their job as “keeping a hand on a pulse of a whole process, and curating its direction.”
You can think of two directions of product management activities: inbound and outbound. First direction includes the strategic product management block of product vision, strategy, product roadmap, and such, and development block of UX research, design, coding, and release. The outbound activities are everything about marketing and sales of the product, such as positioning, branding, sales processes, feedback from customers, and so on.
Of course, there’s no strict line between inbound and outbound product management activities and daily product managers’ tasks are a natural balance in pursuit of product success. And modern tools are a great help to maintain this balance.
Main product management tools
Product management toolkits vary from company to company and are personally selected by a product manager based on their experience and needs. Luckily, we grew out of the spreadsheet era and nowadays the market has plenty of solutions to offer.
Brainstorming, prototyping, and product design are those big fields of responsibility that product managers and product designers share. We know this from our personal experience, so we would like to share some recommendations on product management tools.
For idea validation phase it’s good to rely Lean Canvas with its numerous templates or Figjam, a digital whiteboard from Figma. It encourages team collective brainstorming and helps organize the creative process with tailored templates. As an alternative designers suggest Figjam.
You probably associate Figma/Adobe/InVision/Sketch with design work only. In fact, it’s a go-to tool for product managers who work with the design team or build simple prototypes on their own. Our designers recommend Figma. Easy file sharing and commenting options are just what you need for effective product management and concept visualization.
Product management as well as product design is a lot about analyzing users' behaviour. So professional tools like UXcam or Hotjar are necessity for product managers that want to understand how users interact with the solution.
And of course, you can’t manage the product without organizing information and documentation and talking to other team members. Use Notion or Google Suit to keep your files in order and Slack, Rocket chat, Jira, Todoist, or Toggle for communication and task management.
What production management solutions to use depends a lot on the range of product managers’ responsibilities, as well as the company’s organizational structure.
Organizational structure in product companies
It’s quite obvious that the product management in a small startup and giants like Google is not the same. All the processes within a company, including product management, are determined by its organizational structure.
Departments can build different products from start to finish or focus on one process such as design or marketing for several products.
Startup or any product company’s organization structure often looks like on the chart above. Any business can have a centralized or decentralized structure. But the majority of product companies choose a decentralized model since it allows more flexibility.
Another thing to note here is that the organizational structure influences not only processes and tools, but also the product management roles within company.
Product management roles
Some of the main product management roles are:
Product Manager, the most typical and at the same time the most essential role for product management. Especially in smaller organizations this person is responsible for full product management scope.
Product Owner is the role that defines what is the right product. Product Owner works closely with stakeholders and product team. There can be only one Product Owner in the team. It doesn’t mean that this person does all the work but this role holds the responsibility for managing all important product-related decisions.
User Experience Researcher Don’t get confused, even though this title doesn’t include `product` word it is a very important role for product management that focuses on user experience and collaborates with other product managers as well as design, development and marketing teams.
Product Marketing Manager this role is part of bigger product teams and focuses purely on marketing side of the specific product while collaborating closely with other Product Managers.
There are also leading product management roles:
VP of Product - Vice President of Product is a team leading role that holds ownership of the product decisions and works closely with Chief Technical Officer.
Chief Product Officer (CPO), or head of the product, is the person responsible for product-related activities. CPO is more likely to appear in bigger companies with multiple products and product managers in the teams.
Now when we know most of the product management roles let’s explore the close collaboration between product management and design roles, one of the determining for product`s success.
Product management and design collaboration
`Product Management and Design, working with Engineering, are responsible for defining a winning product` said Marty Cagan in his interview for UX Design Institute. And we could not agree more.
Designers create products' look and feel. So it is essential that product managers and designers work closely together. They need to have a transpaent and effective communication to make sure the business goals, user needs, and the solution functionality combined with the design technological possibilities will meet and result in a great product.
Eleken designers work closely with clients` teams. Our role in the client's team depends a lot on the size and organization type of the company. In smaller teams we work directly with the founder and do a lot of UX research on our own. This was the case with Cheerity, where our designers suggested important changes to the product`s UX.
In bigger companies Eleken designers work directly with UX researchers and niche experts, development team and stakeholders. That’s the model we use in our ongoing cooperation with Greenventory. Our designer is part of all important meetings there. Such approach allows product designers to be a part of the product management process in order to thoroughly understand the future product before designing it.
And of course, if there’s a product manager or a product owner in the team we work the most closely with them. And this always gives fruitful results.
It’s also quite common when our designers take part in user and competitor research, participate in product team meetings, and make suggestions valuable for product development. Strong understanding of the product management and product goals allows our product designers be a valuable part of clients` product teams.
‘Eleken's support has been instrumental in improving the quality of the client's user interfaces, resulting in an increase in new businesses and interest from investors`. We will add that it was the result of the great product management as well.’
From our experience with various teams, we value two aspects of product management the most. Those are clear strategic plan and general team attitude.
It is the most important product management responsibility to provide the strategic and Agile plan for the future product. Product vision, strategy, product roadmap, success metrics, all this is part of product management that turns product success from a desired but blurry goal into an actionable step-by-step journey.
As for the team, product management plays a crucial role as well. It’s like everyone is on the same page, knows what the team is doing and how to get to the goal. With good product management, everyone in the team feels more confident, focused and relaxed. And such an attitude leads to better performance and greater results.
Every product is unique, so is the product management in different organizations. We hope that reading our overview helpled you get a more structured understanding of why product management is important for digital product success.
Interested in learning more about product management? Then consider reading our article about how to shape your product value proposition. Or get in touch and let's design a great digital solution together!